Grammar Rules for the Olympics

Let the Grammar Games begin!

With the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics starting tomorrow, many teachers will be discussing the Olympic Games in class over the next two weeks. (For Olympics lesson and activity ideas, check out this post.) But what about the grammar? Does the Olympics take a singular or a plural verb? When do we capitalize words associated with the Games? What’s the best adjective form? When do we hyphenate words? Think of this article as your one-stop resource to all things grammatical when it comes to the Olympics, and let the Games begin!

Is the Olympics Singular or Plural?

the Olympics + singular verb

the Olympic Games + plural verb

I tackled this thorny topic two years ago during the 2012 Summer Olympics. The short answer is that the slight majority of people and publications refer to the Olympics as singular and the Olympic Games as plural. The idea is that the Olympics is one event or one thing (as another example, think of one huge, week-long concert like Woodstock where multiple bands are playing). However, the Games refer to the many separate sporting events.

Point out to your students that they may see the Olympics taking both a singular and a plural verb. Challenge your students to find examples of each, and ask them what they think. Be sure to check out the complete post and join the debate!

Capitalization of Olympic Words

Always capitalize:

Winter Olympics, Olympics, Olympic, Olympic Games, Games

1. The Olympics

The Olympics, being an event name, is always capitalized. Words associated with the actual name of the Olympics are also capitalized (Winter, Sochi, Games), but other related words are not (medal, podium, torch).

  • Winter Olympics
  • Sochi 2014 Winter Olympic Games
  • Summer Olympics
  • the 2014 Winter Games
  • the Olympics
  • Olympic podium
  • Olympic torch
  • Olympic flag

2. Country Names, Nationalities & Languages

Country names, nationalities, and languages are always capitalized.

  • Canada, the USA, Japan, Korea, Saudi Arabia, Australia, Brazil, Mexico, Sweden, Kenya, etc.
  • Russian, Norwegian, Chinese, Jamaican, South African, British, Venezuelan, etc.
  • English, French, Hindi, Farsi, Japanese, Korean, Mandarin, Spanish, German, etc.

3. Sports & Sporting Event Names

Sports/sporting event names are not usually capitalized. One exception is Nordic combined (because Nordic refers to the country/area).

  • hockey
  • biathlon
  • cross-country skiing (American spelling—other countries use cross country skiing)
  • bobsleigh
  • luge
  • figure skating
  • short track speed skating
  • Nordic combined

4. The

Note that “the” is never capitalized in running text, according to the Chicago Manual of Style, 16th ed. Only capitalize “the” when it is the first word in a sentence.

  • I’m going to watch the Olympics every day.
  • He knows someone who will be competing in the 2014 Winter Games.
  • The Winter Olympics takes place in Sochi this year.

Adjective Forms: Capitalization and Hyphenation

1. Adjective form = Olympic

2. Use a hyphen for multiple-word adjectives (e.g., a gold-medal winner)

The adjective form of the Olympics is Olympic. It is always capitalized. Adjective forms almost never take an -s ending in English. Also, when a multiple-word adjective precedes a noun, it usually takes a hyphen.

  • the Olympic Games
  • Olympic events
  • a gold-medal winner
  • an expert-level slope

Note: You may notice that we use Olympics before a noun in some places on our site. Why? When referring to a lesson, it is common to use the noun form instead of the adjective form. So we use Winter Olympics lesson and Olympics lesson plan. Another example is sports. You would naturally say our Sports lesson plan, not our Sport or Sporting lesson plan. Note that we would normally capitalize any word in this position, since it is the title of the lesson. If this is confusing, you could always reword it like this: a lesson plan on the Olympics or a lesson plan on sports, where you would clearly need the noun form and wouldn’t need to capitalize the topic for a regular word since it’s not the title.

For more grammar tips and activities on the Olympics, check out the Comparative Adjectives, Superlative Adjectives, and Superlative Games posts on our sister site, SproutEnglish.com. Also, be sure to visit ESL Winter Olympics Lesson Plans and Materials for links to ESL Library’s Olympics lesson, podcast, video activity, and flashcard set.

Go team!

16 comments

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  1. serge timacheff says:

    Apr 09, 2017 at 5:19 am

    Within the communications team of International Fencing (FIE), we’ve been having a discussion among English and non-native English speakers and writers. We are disagreeing on the following, as to which is correct (or if it matters). Obviously, consistency is the most important thing, but we are disagreeing in the order of modifying terms:

    A. Men’s Team Epee Event
    or
    B. Men’s Epee Team Event

    A. Women’s Team Foil Event
    or
    B. Women’s Foil Team Event

    A. Men’s Team Sabre Event
    or
    B. Men’s Sabre Team Event

    Any thoughts?

    Thanks…

    Reply

    • Tanya Trusler says:

      Apr 10, 2017 at 2:06 pm

      Hi Serge,

      Interesting question! Yes, consistency is definitely the most important thing, but I realize that an organization like yours also wants to have the most logical and commonly used names. Usually I’d suggest going with whatever the main Olympic websites use, but I’m getting mixed results here. I see that olympic.org uses Foil Team Women (which I personally don’t love), while olympic.ca uses Women’s Team Foil, as you do on your site.

      I just had a discussion with our head writer, and we both agree that your A choices work best (e.g., Women’s Team Foil). It’s what we hear most often in other Olympic events such as gymnastics (e.g., Women’s Team All-Around), and we think it’s logical to emphasize the “team” or “individual” aspect of the event before the type.

      On another note, I don’t think I’d capitalize “event” in those cases (e.g., Women’s Team Foil event). And both olympic.org and olympic.ca use accents on “épée,” but you definitely don’t have to as long as you’re consistent within your site.

      We hope this was helpful. We’d love to hear what you decide.

      Reply

  2. Sofía says:

    Feb 18, 2017 at 2:40 pm

    Is it correct to say “Olympics Cup”?

    Reply

    • Tanya Trusler says:

      Feb 22, 2017 at 7:40 pm

      Hi Sofía,

      “Olympic Cup” is correct. Use Olympic, not Olympics, for the adjective form (e.g., the Olympic Games).

      I had never heard of an Olympic Cup before, so I googled it to find out if “Cup” should be capitalized. Looks like it is—it’s an annual trophy given by the International Olympics Committee, in case anyone else is wondering! https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Olympic_Cup

      Reply

  3. Kimberly Chambers says:

    Jul 07, 2016 at 10:54 pm

    How about team names — for example, “2016 USA Women’s Olympic Gymnastics Team.” I know “Olympic” and the names of the countries should be capitalized, but what about the rest of the team name?

    Reply

    • Tanya Trusler says:

      Jul 11, 2016 at 1:32 pm

      Hi Kimberly,

      Great question! I can’t find an answer in the style guide we follow (Chicago Manual of Style), so let me comment on my findings from other sources.

      Most publications seem to lowercase the word “team” when it comes at the end, but they capitalize it when it comes at the beginning. This is a good guideline to follow, but you’ll probably see lots of variation depending on the publication’s house style.

      For example:
      – the 2016 US women’s Olympic gymnastics team
      – the Canadian men’s basketball team
      – Team USA
      – Team Canada

      Here’s how to capitalize the new team this year:
      – Refugee Olympic Team (ROT)

      Reply

  4. JR Yates says:

    May 12, 2016 at 11:15 pm

    Is it an Olympic Gold medal. Or Olympic gold medal? Is there ever a case where you would or wouldn’t capitalize the names of the medals?

    Reply

    • Tanya Trusler says:

      May 16, 2016 at 1:45 pm

      That’s a great question! I can’t find anything on it in the Chicago Manual of Style, and it probably depends on which style guide a particular newspaper or publisher is following, but through online searches it appears to be lowercased most often. I’d stick with “Olympic gold medals” and “Olympic gold,” “won the gold,” etc.

      Reply

  5. Meg says:

    Feb 22, 2016 at 1:30 pm

    What is the proper grammar for the event titles? Ex. Team Pursuit (4000M) Men? 4x200m Freestyle Relay Men?

    Reply

    • Tanya Trusler says:

      Feb 22, 2016 at 1:50 pm

      Hi Meg,

      Good question. None of the style guides on my desk seem to address this, so I can only go by what I’ve seen most often in American, Canadian, and British publications. Most news sites seem to prefer “men’s 4x200m freestyle relay” and “men’s 4000m team pursuit” so that’s what I would go with in a sentence. If I were listing events in a chart, I would probably capitalize them.

      Reply

  6. Gslchong says:

    Jan 15, 2016 at 10:04 pm

    Which is grammatically correct and why?

    2012 London Olympics or London Olympics 2012

    Reply

    • Tanya Trusler says:

      Jan 18, 2016 at 6:00 pm

      Good question. We would say “the 2012 London Olympics.” In English, modifiers (words that describe a noun) usually go before the noun, including the date and other numbers. Examples:
      – the 2010 Winter Games
      – an exciting, red sports car
      – the first annual ski competition

      For more info about adjectives, see this post: https://blog.esllibrary.com/2013/03/07/adjective-order-and-punctuation/
      Hope that helps!

      Reply

  7. Wael Hammad says:

    Jan 02, 2016 at 6:08 am

    Which is grammatically correct
    I wish to win a medal (on / at ) the Olympic games.

    Reply

    • Tanya Trusler says:

      Jan 05, 2016 at 11:58 am

      Hi Wael,

      We would say “at” or “during” the Olympic Games. But using “wish” with the infinitive doesn’t sound natural. You could say either of these sentences:
      – I hope I win a medal during the Olympic Games.
      – I wish I could win a medal during the Olympic Games.

      For more on wish and hope, see this blog post: https://blog.esllibrary.com/2014/06/19/hope-vs-wish/

      Reply

  8. Sander says:

    Dec 16, 2015 at 7:38 am

    Hi, here’s a question from the Netherlands. In Dutch The word ‘Olympic’ itself is only capitalized when used in combination with or in reference to the event itself: The Games (Olympic Games). How does that work in English? Woud it be ‘Olympic Year’ or ‘olympic year’?

    Thanks a lot

    Reply

    • Tanya Trusler says:

      Dec 16, 2015 at 12:21 pm

      Hi Sander,

      Great question! In English, we always capitalize “Olympic.” This applies, as far as I know, to all countries with English as the main language. For example, Merriam-Webster (US) has “Olympic” as the entry, as does Oxford (UK). It’s always interesting to me to hear the similarities and differences in other languages, so thanks for sharing this difference in Dutch.

      PS. I had the chance to live in Amsterdam for a year back in 2004. The Netherlands is a beautiful, amazing country!

      Reply

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